Hank Says, or, All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in China

(Editor’s note:  At the age of 70, and in a state of semi-retirement, my father Robert Lee Hilligoss, the original Humboldt, Illinois Tiger, traveled to China for a total of 30 days, with his fellow Mattoon High School alum and  friend, Henry Weaver.  On the way to O’Hare airport prior to departing America for points eat, Bob confessed to being as nervous as he was on his first day of school with Ms. Emily in her one room school-house in Coles County Illinois. Upon his return to America 30 days later, he said that much like Chuck Berry, he was so glad to be right back here in the USA. The following are brief excerpts from the upcoming one man monologue, much like Spalding Gray, sure to be coming to a theatrical venue near you. Check for local listings.)

The Humboldt Tiger goes to the land of the Flying Tigers

By Robert Lee Hilligoss (But we call him B.O.B)

What’s For Dinner? The Ballad of the Uneasy Eater

The food was different from the Chinese cuisine that I get at my local Chinese eatery, the China Star. Most of the food was very good. Some was very foreign to my taste. I found very little to be unacceptable. The one thing that I ate, which I wished I had passed on, was chicken feet. I discovered what my friend Hank had spent a year talking about was the noodles in soup, with meat, to be a delight to eat. Even though I could not manage the art of using chop sticks, there are spoons to be had, but forks are rare. Dumplings with meat or vegetables were delicious.
Surprisingly I was offered very little rice. Fish was good, but bony. They had one dish that reminded me of Buffalo Hot Wings, but they used unbreaded pork. Drinks, water, tea, Coke(with ginger) were always served, hot. I never
saw ice once in China until I boarded flight 850 to return to the states. The first request that I had for stewardess was a diet Coke with plenty of ice.

The Ways of the World : Trains, Planes and….taxis??

Travel by train, taxi or bus, I found to be comparable to train and bus travel in America. The best way to travel between major cities is by far to take a plane. The cost is very reasonable, an hour and 15 minute flight cost about 600 Yuan or $96, the planes are modern and the service staff is very good.

What You Really Need to Know (If you know what I mean)

Prepare yourself for some surprises when it comes to bathroom facilities. There is a thing called an Asian toilet, most Chinese people understand the word toilet. The Asian toilet is basically a hole in the floor, some are metal, some are ceramic. Every hotel I stayed in had a western toilet, but the shower in most have no tub or stall. There is a
drain in the floor below the shower head, and when you take a shower, you flood your bathroom floor, your ceramic tile floor becomes extremely slick and dangerous. The hotels that I stayed in, and the Lemon Hotel in Yan’an
was very acceptable, do not offer a simple wash rag(face towel). You use a hand towel.

I Depended on the Kindness of Strangers; An ode to Blanche Dubois

The most impressive feature that I found in China is the people. They tried to be as helpful as possible. Two young women that Hank and I met in St. Louis in 2010 helped us greatly by drawing up a list of questions written in Chinese. I have save that paper, and it is worn out. Everytime we were having a difficult time due to language, out came the list. It bailed us out several times. If we were having trouble with giving a taxi cab driver directions, a crowd always formed, and people tried to help out.

The people that I met and grew to know were the teachers at Yan’an Shaanxi Middle School(High School). They were top-notch individuals, the kind of persons that would be good neighbors and friends. They are hard workers and are dedicated to their profession of teaching. The students were an exciting group of young people that I enjoyed speaking to, at every opportunity that availed itself. They asked enlightened questions, and tried their best to speak English that was understandable. They were fun and interesting.

In My Life; All Those I Met Along the Way

Walking upon the ancient Great Wall was my greatest thrill. I have to thank Mr. Gao, Mr. Li, Andrew, Mrs. Li U Feng, Paul Prang, Jenny, Michelle, Mrs. Tree, everyone I met at the school for making my 24 days in Yan’an worthwhile. But without the aid of Clair, Veronica, Amy and Michelle, we probably would not have made it out of the Beijing Airport.

Why China? Because Hank Says

After my return, while substitute teaching at New Berlin High School, a student asked as to why I would choose to travel to China. I probably surprised him when I answered safety. The simple fact that there are people in the world that want to see Americans dead because we are Americans, no other reason. I have not heard of one American dying in China as a result of terrorism. The Chinese government knows as to who is in their country and where they are to be found. You buy a ticket for air travel, you present your passport and it is copied. You buy a train ticket, you present your passport. You check into a hotel, you show, guess what—–your passport. They know who is in THEIR country and WHERE you are located. Unlike America, they want to know just who is in country and where they can be found. A high school student in Yan’an asked me as to why I would choose to visit his hometown of Yan’an. I answered that I wanted to see the “real China”, not the post card version for the average tourist. Some of the people of Yan’an saw their first white man with blue eyes, when they saw me for the first time I walked the streets of Yan’an, Shaanxi. There was plenty to see, it centered around the simple fact that Mao Zedong lived in the Yan’an area from 1937 to 1951


Bob flew back to Chicago in March and as we left the airport in Chicago on the way home, I cranked up some Chuck Berry music, as a welcome home and heard the pride of St.Louis, Charles M Berry sing these words:

I feel so good today

We just touched down on an international runway

Jet propelled from overseas right  back into the USA

Looking hard for a drive-in

Searching for a corner cafe

Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grille night and day

And the jukebox is jumping with records like Back in the USA

Uh huh huh, oh yeah…….

Editor’s note: My father, Robert Lee, retired in June of 2011 after teaching, off and on over a course of 47 years, for a total of 35 years in public school classrooms. He began in 1964 in tiny Westfield, Illinois, and then moved on to the metropoli of Divernon and Rochester before taking a 13 year sabbatical to work in the restaurant business before returning to the Divernon Dragons in 1990. During his career, he taught thousands in the classroom and hundreds more on the floor of the basketball gymnasium. He was a teacher and coach, but he taught his students and athletes much more than simply the dates of the Civil War or how to run a three-man weave. He taught them how to be better people. And he continues to teach as evidenced above.

Written by Ryan Hilligoss, March 2012

2 thoughts on “Hank Says, or, All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in China

  1. Bob, very good. I am proud of you for taking this trip. Many would not because of
    fear of foriegn countries. Sounds like you enjoyed yourself and met many friendly

  2. Pingback: In China, millions make themselves at home in caves – latimes.com « Ye Olde Soapbox

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